Soft beds for cows is the new standard

Soft beds for cows is the new standard

Soft bed for cows, a free ranging barn facts and it's farmer's insides

Basically we'll discuss the importance of soft beds for cows and we have some great insides about a brand new free ranging cow barn in Holland and the philosophy of the farmer who owns it. And we'll give you our comments on this barn and philosophy. You will find the following chapters in this article:

  1. Situation in Holland - breakdown the numbers in rough estimations
  2. Case study 'Marc Havermans, from Moerdijk, the Netherlands: Free ranging dairy barn (vrijloopstal): 3.5 years experience
  3. Conclusions & comments on this case study by Joep Driessen

First, here is an update on Dutch dairy farming:

download this update as Pdf here>>

400 barns started with dried manure in the cow beds (cubicles/box) the last 2 years.(synonym: bio bedding, green bedding, solids, separated manure with 32% dry matter).
It seems to work very well. It is soft and dry and we do not see too many risks for more mastitis and cell count when managed well. Good ventilation, daily cleaning 3x and weekly filling. Some go for daily filling. Start with little layers so it can dry after you put it into the beds.

Less than 5% mastitis cases per year!

40 barns with sand cubicles: Most of our 500 new barns (made by: vetvice-cowsignals barn design team, have deep bedded cubicles. The most chosen is the save option of chopped straw mixed with water and limestone (1:1:4) - 1000 out of 18.000 barns.

This also works well with our traditional slatted floors. Sand however is in our opinion the best options (good hygiene, soft, cool in summer and excellent grip on the concrete floors!) Most of the new sand bedded barns have very low mastitis and cell count percentage… Less than 5% mastitis cases per year! (Dutch average mastitis percentage is 28% treated cases per year). Most of our new barn designs have a soft bed, a stress free calving line for 5-10% of the cows, automatic selection and a good handling/treatment square with treatment box. This provides happy cows and happy farmers!!

40 barns without cubicles: Free ranging barn. This is the best solution for cows. Some have straw pack. Most have woodchips with sawdust pack. Some have compost as bedding.

Straw pack is the best option: always dry and absorbing. You need 10m2 resting area per cow with av. production of 10.000 litre per year. And you need 10kg of straw per cow per day. This is how we design our stress free calving lines for the cows 3 weeks before and 3 weeks after calving.

The composting barns with woodchips are quite wet several months per year (spring and autumn). Then you have to add a lot of sawdust daily…

The compost barns (they ad compost daily or weekly) are working well, but also get very wet several months per year. Farmers ad 15.000 kg compost per cow per year (7 winter months only, summer is dry enough if well ventilated and solar radiation through transparent plastic folio roof).


download this case study as Pdf whitepaper here >>
Marc owns this innovative barn. But first, see these photo’s:
Soft beds for cows 2

Soft beds for cows 3

Soft beds for cows 4

Soft beds for cows 5

Marc Haverman’s philosophy in 12 facts:

Give the cows maximal freedom and keep it simple. Then you can have a good income and a good life!!

  1. 3,5 years of experience with just compost 75 cm deep. Just started with straw bedding 6 weeks ago, because of legislation. Still daily cultivating. (Compost is labelled by the government as manure, and therefore it is impossible to stay within the limits of kg Nitrate per hectare. 15% N2 evaporates from the pack, rest is slow release on the land with about 15% in the first year)
  2. 210 cows, 30m2 space in straw/compost bed per cow. Barn is 49,5 x 140 m. 4 Lely a4 robots. Separate pack for cows calving and nursing baby’s for the first 3 weeks. Selection area and treatment box behind the 4 robots, with automatic selection from all 4 robots. Calf corner were they hide from the fresh cow herd.
  3. Cows are 3 way cross with Danish Red, Holstein and Montbeliarde. 8000 litre per cow per year. 15-20% replacement.
  4. 21 days dry period and no antibiotic treatment. Dry cows are in the main herd. Before calving till 3 weeks after calving they are in the fresh cow herd. Weak cows also stay in this herd. In this group there is a woodchips bedding that does not need filling very often. This is safer for the baby calves. When filling they need to be with 2 people to not run over de baby’s with the lorry…
  5. Feeding: unlimited silage (mix of 6 cuts of grass silage only) and up to 8 kg concentrate in the robots. Dry cows eat grass silage and 2 kg in the robot and last 10 days before calving they get a kg extra. There are 5 feed troughs with 22 cow places, so 110 places for 190 cows.
    Feed troughs are filled every morning and places in the a new location. This is a weak spot: very wet manure around the through. Front feed sink in, and rim of feeder is too high.
  6. Plans are to grow to 300 cows, 5 robots, feed lane (concrete) and alley with Lely vector (automatic mixing, feeding and pushing machine) on one site of the barn (140 meter). New situation will have 16 m per cow in the straw pack. Roof is greenhouse system that provides a lot of sunlight for drying and many ventilation options for max air flow.
  7. Pack: Plastic under layer, Sand layer of 20 cm (to see difference when emptying compost). Emptying dry compost (70% dry matter)only in Summer: July 20 cm top layer out and September 30 cm. Then start adding compost in October November, depends on the humidity, until April. Cows are in all year round because of heavy clay and small house field. Cultivating the pack daily. Adding dry compost weekly. Total pack is 6000 m2 (49.5 x 120)

    Give the cows maximal freedom and keep it simple. Then you can have a good income and a good life

  8. Barn is 6 meter till the gutter and 7,5 meter till the roof. Half of the roof can be opened. Side panels can open only 2,5 meter. In winter the low part is closed, but there is a half meter opening at 3 meter high. Free span width is 16.5 meters. 6000 meter pack and 1000 meter with machinery, office and selection area. In front of robots there is a manure storage tank with slatted floor.
  9. Temperature at cow level: Max 1 degree difference with outside. Due to open sides and open roof. Winter : when -7 degrees outside, they can keep it -2 degrees Celsius inside, by closing side walls and roof completely. Shade nets are automatically coming out when sunny and above 22 degrees Celsius. Cows only use the shade area when temperature exceeds 27 degrees. Computer control on light intensity, wind, temperature and humidity.
  10. Health: healthy and shiny and clean cows. Lower 20 cm of legs are dirty because of feeding system in the pack. This will be changed now. No mortelaro, laminitis or other hoof diseases. Hoof trimming once per year in January. Almost all cows calf naturally. 3% are born dead. Half per cent caesareans. No abomasal displacements. No dirty uterus or afterbirth problems. Around 10% mastitis cases. Sometimes we start milking only 2-3 days after calving. 5% cows have milk fever mainly on the second day after calving. 10% of the calves have diarrhoea. Mainly rota-corona virus and cryptosporidia. 5% of the calves is not nursed by the mother. They drink 10-15liters per day on day 21. That is the raise in milk that we see on day 22 of the mothers. After 3 weeks calves go to an automatic calf feeder machine in a small group of 3-4. When they drink ok, they go to a group of max 20 calves in tube ventilated barn.
  11. Labour: 7 days from 9-5 staff. Main work is feeding (0,5-1 hour), Straw adding (0,5 hour) and cultivating the pack (1 hour)
  12. New system with straw: 2 truckloads of straw per week of 90 euros per 1000 kg straw. Estimation is to use only 5 kg straw per cow per day in future because of separate feeding lane which is capturing almost half of the 60 kg slurry per cow per day, and the excellent ventilation and drying (open and solar transparent roof), and the fact that I will still have 15 m2 per cow resting area.

MORE INFO on this case

Marc Havermans, e-mail:
website: and


Free ranging barns: a very interesting cow friendly system. Key success factors are feed water light air rest and space… ! Spacey deep sand / straw cubicles are probably almost as good as this free ranging pack… It is your choice!

Big success factor is the freedom to eat. We recommend 70 cm feed space per cow, and a concrete lane were the cows can stand, always on the same level. You can put rubber here for the cows to stand on during the 6 hours eating. Scraping of this area every 2 hours is a must. Free access from resting to feeding is another big thing. So do not create barriers!!

First step for many dairymen and women in the world is to start experimenting with deep beds!! Start with your dry cow cubicles. Make them deep, large and soft! With free head swing space. They will love it… and you will love it…!

Good luck!
Kind regards Joep Driessen

Get this article as a Pdf whitepaper here (incl. pictures) >>

Please let us know what you think, post your comment below. We love feedback, thanks!

Comments (5)

Valerie Jonckheer-Sheehy

Very interesting! Have any preference tests been done?

Joep Driessen

if cows can choose between straw pack and beds, they will prefer the free straw yard.... (if dry and clean enough...)


With these innovative types of bedding, it is also important to take the effect on milk quality and safety into account. For example compost can influence milk quality, and some other materials (e.g. rubber tires, plant material possibly containing herbicides) could influence safety. Other important aspect, besides health and welfare of the cows, to take into account!


I would prefer the free range barn above cubicles but can see a problem with fetching cows for the "late list". The scraper lanes make that easy.

Nils Neteland

Hallo! I am a Norwegian farmer. I understand that sand or straw is the best for the cows, and I agree. But I cant use that, so what is the second best? I have studied waterbeds, gel mats and pasture mats. I think waterbeds will last longer, but gel mats is altso very good but will they last long or will the get to hard in a few tears? Hope to get a good answer from you even though I want use straw or sandbeds.

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